Defiance not compliance:turning the other cheek

https://www.cpj.ca/defiance-not-compliance-turning-other-cheek

“Wink goes on to examine the phrase “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Why, Wink asks, does Jesus reference the right cheek specifically? The answer is both challenging and enlightening. Jesus lived in a right-handed world where left hands were reserved only for unclean tasks. Therefore, we can see assume that the person doing the hitting would have used their right hand. The only way to strike someone on the right cheek with your right hand is a backhanded slap. Such a blow connotes an insult, not a fistfight, and was a normal way to reprimand someone over whom you had power (e.g. masters to slaves, husbands to wives, Romans to Jews). To strike your equal in such a manner was socially and legally unacceptable, carrying with it a huge fine.

With this new understanding of the context Jesus was speaking in, picture the scenario with yourself as the oppressor. You are a wealthy, powerful person whose slave has displeased you in some way. You reprimand your slave with a backhanded slap. The response you expect is the response you have always received from your slaves – the response you yourself would give if someone higher than you treated you the same way. You expect your slave to cower, submit, and slink away. Instead, your slave defiantly turns their other cheek and challenges you to hit them again. What can you do?

You would like to give your slave another backhanded slap to show them their place, but to do that you would have to use your left hand which would admit that your action is unclean. You could hit them on their left cheek, instead, but it would be embarrassing to hit your slave the way you should hit your equal. You’re confused. You don’t know what to do. Flustered, you could order the slave be flogged, but the slave has already made their point. They have shown you that they are a human person with dignity and worth. You don’t own them, you cannot control them, and they do not submit to your rule.

And so, in light of Wink’s insights, Jesus’ instruction not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek transforms from an instruction to accept injustice into a challenge to resist systems of domination and oppression without the use of violence. Rather than ignoring an evil situation and hoping it will go away, Jesus is telling his followers to find creative, active, and nonviolent ways to assert their humanity and God’s love in the world.”

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